Michael Stead, an assistant bishop in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and chair of its religious freedom reference group, has also praised the bill but called for changes.
The Anglican Church sees the second draft as a "significant improvement." However, it suggested that the bill's definition of a religious body was "very clumsy" and should be defined as "a body which has the purpose of advancing religion" regardless of whether it is a charity. This would be a more satisfying way to determine which religious bodies may still prefer staff of the same religion.
At the same time, Stead said the definition is still limited to non-profit entities and would not protect commercial service providers such as Christians who bake cakes, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.
The Australian Human Rights Commission, a government-funded but independent NGO, has said that while it supports the prohibition of religious discrimination, it objected that its provisions "provide protection to religious belief or activity at the expense of other rights." The bill is not an appropriate way to apply international human rights law and its provisions limit other human rights in a way that is "unnecessary and disproportionate or otherwise inconsistent with international law."
The commission backed religious protections in employment decisions only where it is an "inhterent requirement of the job," like a religious minister. Where religious bodies provide a public service with government funding it should be done "in a non-discriminatory way."
Ed Santow, the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, said the bill does not protect "the entire community equally." The exemptions are too broad and protect "the right to religion for some at the expense of religious equality of others," he objected.
Stead, the Anglican bishop, said there are precedents for many religious protections. He said criticisms of protections of religious speech put forward by the Australian Human Rights Commission and LGBT advocacy groups were "so extreme as to be laughable."
"The kind of 'right to be a bigot' cited in some submissions is not the reason why religious communities are asking for these protections," he said. "We want them to ensure religious people are not going to lose their job, be excluded from courses or professional bodies merely because of expressing religious beliefs."
Stead characterized the proposal as "a sensible balance between the right of freedom of religion with other rights."
The Australian Medical Association said the bill would allow some doctors to suffer employment discrimination on the basis of religious belief. Dr. Chris Moy, chair of the association's ethics and medical-legal committee, said current law allows doctors to conscientiously object, including to matters like contraception provision, but changes could allow them to "just walk away" from patients.
Ghassan Kassisieh, legal director of the LGBT group Equality Australia, characterized protections for religious organizations as a "blanket exemption" in elder care, hospitals and charity services. He objected that the bill would ban only statements which "seriously intimidate," while the current law bans "when degrading or humiliating things are said in the workplace, or in schools or during the provision of services."
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For Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter, the proposal would ensure that people "can't be the subject of a discrimination act complaint for the mere statement of religious belief." Employer conduct codes cannot constrain employees from making "non-malicious non-vilifying statements of religious belief in their spare time."
"People of religion would, I think, rightly consider saying what they believe is a necessary part of their religiosity," he said, according to The Guardian.
The proposed legislation follows controversy over the treatment of Israel Folau, a devout Christian and professional rugby star, who was fired by Rugby Australia in May 2019 after a post on Instagram. The post listed "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters" above the statement "Hell awaits you."
Folau cited the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression, saying he was expressing a Biblical idea. Upholding his religious beliefs, he said, "should not prevent my ability to work or play for my club or country."
Some religious group opposed protections.
"We don't discriminate and don't believe others should have the right to discriminate or, in fact, engage in any bigotry in the name of religion," said Bronwyn Pike, chief executive of the Uniting Church's Victoria and Tasmania community services group Uniting Vic.Tas.